Posted by: oldsalt1942 | January 24, 2016

The Doc Bremer and the H. W. Taunt

One of the best shantyboat sites (besides this one, of course) is The site has been the inspiration for quite a few of the articles I’ve posted here.

Bryan Lowe runs the site and has actually built several shanty boats. Among them are his version of Phil Theil’s Escargot:


Bryan also has a great sense of humor for building this:

Click the link to see his micro shanty in action.

micro 2


Lately, though he’s been thinking along bigger lines than a 4X8-foot micro shanty. His wife is demanding more headroom than the Escargot offers and Bryan has been inspired by two old boats. The Doc Bemer on the Mississippi river:

doc bremer 1

And the H.W. Taunt over in England…


These seem to be variations on the Loire river barges in France…

loire barge

The Loire barges were working boats and carry a HUGE square sail when the wind is right.

Bryan has done some Sketchup drawings and has actually started putting together an egg crate framing



I really like where this is heading and would love to do one myself.

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | January 14, 2016

Resist The Urge

I don’t know if it’s a universal trait or not, but people in the United States have long believed that “Bigger is Better.” “Size Matters.” I want to scream, “No it isn’t!” and “No it doesn’t!”

On the other side of the coin you have dumbest phrase of ALL TIME in “Less is More.”  I can’t tell you how much this makes my back teeth ache. NO IT’S NOT!!! MORE is MORE! Less, by its very definition isn’t as much so it CAN’T be more! Now less can sometimes be BETTER than more but Less is NEVER more.

One of the most often asked boating questions is “What size boat do I need to go cruising?” Well, if you pay attention to the boating and cruising magazines whose life blood is the advertising income they receive from boat manufacturers and equipment manufacturers. Your life is in imminent danger the moment you leave the dock in anything less than 45 or fifty feet of fiberglass tricked out with every electronic device known to mankind. I remember once someone describing another person’s boat saying it was fantastic because it had the “most expensive” navigation gear available. Naysayer that I am I said that NO, most “expensive” is NOT  a synonym for “best.” Those same boating mags totally ignore the fact that Robert Manry in 1965 sailed from Falmouth, Mass. to Falmouth, Cornwall, England in Tinkerbelle a tiny 13.5-foot (4.1 m) sailboat.


Or that 16 year old Robin Lee Graham sailed his 24′ Dove around the world alone


or that Tania Aebi did a solo circumnavigation in a 26′ sailboat when she was 18.


Between 1955 and 1959 John Guzzwell sailed solo around the world in a boat that wasn’t quite 21 feet long.


The answer to the question “What size boat do I need to go cruising?” was best summed up, I think by Don Casey and Lew Hackler in their book Sensible Cruising: The Thoreau Approach when they said, “The one you have.”

I absolutely LOVE this book and the advice in it is gold…

And “cruising” DOESN’T have to entail great ocean crossings. Taking your boat and going to a little cove you’ve never been to before is going cruising.

L. Francis Herreshoff, who knew a thing or three about boats had this to say about cruising . . . “Cruising should be entirely for pleasure, and when it ceases to be so it no longer makes sense. Of course those who want to beat out what little brains they have in a night thrash to windward should have a strong, stiff racing machine, a very expensive contraption, one which sacrifices the best qualities of a cruiser. But the little yacht that can snuggle alongside some river bank for the night and let its crew have their supper in peace while listening to the night calls of the whippoorwill will keep its crew much more contented. They will be particularly happy and contented when the evening rain patters on the deck and the coal-burning stove becomes the center of attraction. Then if you can lie back in a comfortable place to read, or spend the evening in pleasant contemplation of the next day’s run, well, then you can say “This is really cruising.”

And here’s a truism most people aren’t aware of: “Boats are used in inverse proportion to their size!” That is, the smaller the boat and the easier it is to use then the more it WILL BE USED.

So, what got me started on this rant in the first place? Well, I’ve once again been bitten by  the “I need to have a shanty boat bug!” And I’ve been pouring over old articles I’ve saved and scouring the internet for new inspiration. And last night I saw this neat thing. It’s LaMar Alexander’s 8×12 Stealth-boat Tiny House Design.


The VERY FIRST THING that crossed my mind was, “with just three more sheets of plywood you could extend it to 8X20 feet and have a lot more room!” I mean that was my instant reaction, and it’s really not wrong, I don’t believe, if you’re making something that you intend to live on.×12-stealth-boat-tiny-house-design/#m2rqK975Cd4K6q2A.99

An eight by twelve foot shanty like this would be a great weekender or fine for a short vacation, but I really believe if you’re going to spend much time on it you need to make it AT LEAST 16-feet long but I wouldn’t go over 20 because of cost, weight, time to build, etc.

Just be wary of where you brain leads you. It’s going to automatically make you want to go bigger.

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | January 13, 2016

Ideas That Won’t Work

One of my favorite quotes of all times is, “Every man has a million dollar idea that won’t work.” That’s SO TRUE, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be worth a million dollars for that idea not to work…

Way back last September I wrote a post about using foam blocks with steel grids to possibly build pontoons using a ferro cement method.

In that post I mentioned that I often pass by a place on the bus route that actually has the stuff. Well, today I decided to finally take a look at it. As you can see from this picture it has sort of a wavy pattern to the foam, probably to give the concrete better structural strength…I don’t really have a clue, though.


The foam is about 2″ thick, though that’s just a guess from memory looking at it. I didn’t actually measure it. The wire part is pretty chintzy. To do a ferrocement cement construction you’d need to attach a lot of chicken wire to the wire that’s already on the foam. I don’t think it would be worth the time and effort. But my most recent brain storm, was the possibility of using the foam as a core and putting fiberglass on both sides and making a barge hull. Glass foam construction is an actual way of creating one-off boats, for real.

Up close and personal, as they say, the wire mesh is pretty chintzy. it’s not embedded into the foam but rather at each corner there is a sort of barb that pierces the foam to hold the mesh in place. It would be quite easy to rip the stuff off of the foam, but the ripples wouldn’t be a good stratus to glass over.

But I was curious about the stuff anyway so I went inside and talked to one of the sales people. Normally I do okay with my Spanish but I wasn’t getting through to this guy. The Spanish word for “foam” is “espuma” but he thought I was talking about the expanding foam stuff that comes in cans. I told him what I wanted they had stored across the street, and so we went to take a look at it.

“Ah, tres em ay.” Three M. Yes, Three M makes the stuff. We went back to the main, air conditioned, store and he looked it up on the computer. Each 4’X8′ piece costs $34.95, With 7% tax it comes to $34.70. It would take about 8 sheets for $277.60. Not counting glass and resin, etc.

I then asked his supervisor if they could order similar blocks of foam without the mesh and he said, “No.”

“Really, you can’t order foam blocks?” I said.

“No,” he replied.

“Is it because you can’t, or because you won’t?” I asked, with a wink.

He just shrugged his shoulders with a sardonic wink, and walked away.

Oh, well.

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | November 19, 2015

Shanty Boater’s Idea Of Heaven?

Halong Bay Floating Village, Vietnam, must be a shanty boater’s idea of dying and going to heaven…

floating village 2


There are about 600 residents of this floating village, most of whom, not surprisingly,  make a living from the sea.

floating village



Posted by: oldsalt1942 | October 21, 2015

Adaptable Ideas

While this link will take you to a story about converting a cargo van into a living space there’s a LOT here that can be adapted and adopted into a shantyboat.

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | October 14, 2015

If I Can’t Have A Shantyboat….

Then I want to live HERE….


Posted by: oldsalt1942 | October 10, 2015

The Ultimate Hammock For Boat Nuts Like Me

I’ve got a big post coming up about hammocks in the works. My hiking brother, Jeff, calls them “Bear Piñatas.” But if you’re a boat nut like me they don’t get much cooler than this…boat

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | October 9, 2015


Just some thoughts when it comes to hot water on a shanty boat…

Some might say I’m a bit strange, and I won’t argue the point. Some might say I live a minimalist lifestyle and I’m not so sure that’s entirely true but there are hints of it.

Almost all of us gringos grew up with hot water for bathing. Hardly any Panamanians did. In fact, there is a belief among many Panamanians that hot showers and baths are actually bad for one’s health. In fact, I had a neighbor lady tell me just that within the last week!

Over the years I’ve had situations where hot water wasn’t available at the turn of the tap. When I lived on my shanty boat in New Orleans I didn’t have hot water. When I wanted hot water to shave I had to put a pot on the stove and warm the water up. No big deal. I worked at a boat yard and did a lot of paint “prep” which consisted of spending eight hours a day with an electric sander in my hand making dust, much of which covered me by quitting time. Back at the boat I had a shower head rigged to a hose supported on a 2X4. New Orleans has a pretty hot climate most of the year, and the water in PVC piping that serviced my dock was rarely cold. Tepid to warm would be the best words to describe the water temperature so it was pleasant. In the three or four winter months I had a good friend who lived on my route home from the yard and he kindly allowed me to shower at his place. So things worked out pretty well.

The next time my living conditions didn’t have hot water on demand was when I bought my much-missed Nancy Dawson, a Kaiser 26 sailboat. I took off on her for nine months and single-handed to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala It was always hot there so when I was in the salt water areas I’d dive off the side of the boat, climb up in the dinghy and lather up with Joy dishwashing soap (the only thing that produces lather in salt water) and then I’d rinse off with fresh water. That’s necessary because salt from the sea drying on your body will eventually give you a rash. When I returned to the States I lived for close to two years in a boat yard and then at a marina for another four years or so, and each place had shower rooms so hot water was not a problem.

In the first year and a half here in Panama I was house sitting at a place for two six-month stints and they had an on-demand hot water heater. The place here in Boqueron also has an on-demand water heater that doesn’t work simply because most of the time the water pressure isn’t high enough to trigger it. Now, I haven’t gotten used to cold water showers, though I have to say the water is never cold as it is in the States, but it’s still cold enough that I don’t find it comfortable most of the time. The exception is on really hot days in the middle of the afternoon then it feels good to get in the shower.

For shaving I do what I did on the shanty boat. Heat water in a pot and use that. I wash dishes in cold water and since most houses in the country don’t have hot water some brilliant people have created a soap that lathers up in cold water.

So, how do I deal with the cold water showers? Well, one way is what I would call a “modified sponge bath.” That is to say I stay out of the main stream of the water and use a soapy face cloth to wash myself. I don’t mind sticking my head in the cold water to wash my hair, though.

But I DO like warm water to shower with. For quite a while I used a “Sun Shower.” One of those four-gallon plastic bags that you lay in the sun for a couple of hours and it heats up the water. Does a damned good job, too. You can scald yourself if you’re not careful. The problems I had with it was hanging it up in the shower compartment space. Fresh water weighs 8 lbs. a gallon, so hoisting the 32-pound bag was a bit of a pain in the ass. Also, since it’s gravity-fed and the shower head nozzle was only about three feet off the deck I had to squat down to get under the water stream. It wasn’t a lot of fun to use, but I did. The biggest problem  was keeping the inside of the bag clean. Green slime would build up and eventually, even bleach wouldn’t get rid of the crud.

The end result for getting a hot water shower comes in the form of this thing. (Photo) It’s designed to spray toxic chemicals on weeds. I’d tried a smaller version years ago on the sailboat. It only held a gallon of water, and the spray nozzle wasn’t worth a damn. I think I tried it two or three times and gave up. But I decided to try again. This one holds 2-1/2 gallons. I did cut the hose and nozzle off of the sun shower and rigged it up to the new setup. A little bit of black spray paint et voilà as we used to say over in Antibes, France.

This certainly does the job though it’s no where near as exhilarating as standing under a REAL hot shower. I set it outside in the sun for a few hours and the water heats up nicely. A few strokes of the pump handle and there’s a decent flow of water. There’s a thing-a-mah-jig by the squeezer on the spray handle that allows for a continuous stream. Since the capacity of the unit is only 2-1/2 gallons you can’t stand under the hot water stream for a long time, but it’s enough to actually provide TWO Navy showers.

A Navy shower is essential for shipboard life where fresh water is limited. What you do is get wet, shut off the water stream, lather up, rinse off. It works. Another feature of the new set up over the Sun Shower is that the neck of the bottle is pretty wide, so if it has been a cloudy day, or I want to take a shower early in the morning all I have to do it put on the big pot of water, heat it up and pour it in to the container with the cooler water and then I’m able to get a comfortable shower.

Like I said, I don’t recommend that people live as I do. Most wouldn’t want to, but I’m adaptable. You have to be, after all, to live for nearly six years on a 26-foot sailboat.

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | September 13, 2015

Another Crazy Idea…

A while back I was investigating the availability here in Panama of close-cell foam to use as a building material for shantyboat pontoons. There is one place in Panama City that has the stuff, but it is, for my purposes, prohibitively expansive, especially when you consider the cost of fiberglass mat and roving and epoxy resin to cover the stuff. Actually, I’d probably use polyester resin. I’m not talking about building a yacht, here, and since I’m a 73-year old guy with COPD and three stents in my arteries I’m not looking for something that needs to last forever.

One thing they do have around here in Chiriquí Province is stuff like this:



It’s a foam core with high-tensile metal mesh on both sides. At first I didn’t think it could be adapted to use in shanty boat construction. But as so often happens, things are put aside and percolate subconsciously. There is a place along on my bus route from Boquerón into David (dah VEED) that actually stocks the stuff. I see it sitting in racks near the street. It looks like it comes in 4X8-foot sheets. It may be available in other sizes, but that’s what this stuff looks like.

When they’re building houses with this stuff they set up the foam panels and then coat both sides with concrete. Then several things came to me over the past couple of days. First: remember when ferro-cement boats were the big rage for home builders a few decades ago? Hundreds, perhaps thousands were started. Few were ever finished. Second: down here in Panama the majority of houses are cement block construction, wood being FOOD for a lot of different things. So the people around here are skilled with mixing and creating stuff out of concrete. I’m not just talking about piling up blocks to build houses with either. At the hostel I’m staying at for a few days while the owners of my house are down here on vacation they’ve made these counters out of concrete out in the palapa hut where the communal kitchen is located.

counter 1

counter 2

So, I’m thinking…if the panels are cheap enough why couldn’t they be used as the basis for either pontoons or a barge and have concrete applied to both sides to form a hull? b-panel, one of several companies that make these panels advertise them as being “quake resistant” so a hull could probably be strong enough to survive a truck ride of 25 miles or so down to Pedrigal from my house. Besides, the company advertises that pre-fab wall panels can be easily built and transported to a building site.

b-panel also has this interesting segment of their web site…Q: Can expanded polystyrene (EPS) be used for a floating house?

A: Yes, because EPS consists of 98% air, its buoyance is excellent. EPS is widely used for floating structures including floating houses. Furthermore, EPS as floatation has a much better safety factor than drum or other materials because EPS cannot easily sink, as its buoyancy is provided by millions of individual air cells.

So, tomorrow, Monday, I’m going to swing by the place that has the foam and see what they cost. Who knows what might develop?

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | September 1, 2015

Simple And Easily Done

I know, I know, I haven’t posted in a while but new shantyboat stuff doesn’t hit the internet on a daily basis.

This is a simple, easily done shantyboat that shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. I’m sure nearly every reader would be able to find an inexpensive pontoon boat near them that could be converted. You could buy a shed at a lot of outlets and mount it aboard. Voilà!


Read about it here:

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